Nonprofit Spotlight: Bering Omega Community Services
Addresses: (Mailing) P.O. Box 540517 Houston, TX 77254; Main Campus (care center, treatment programs and housing assistance): 1429 Hawthorne St.; Omega House residential hospice (pictured above) 602 Branard St.
Number of employees: 55
Number of active volunteers (annually): 474
Q&A with Bering Omega Community Services President Daniel Snare
MGH: What is the mission of Bering Omega?
DS: Bering Omega Community Services exists to nurture the well being, and meet the physical, emotional and spiritual needs of persons affected by HIV/AIDS through compassionate health care and social services.
MGH: How many different services providers are involved with Bering Omega and how has that grown through the years?
DS: Our oral health care, day treatment, and hospice services are unique in Houston and Southeast Texas, meaning we are the only organization that provides these services free of charge to low income individuals living with HIV/AIDS. Over our 24-year history we have have developed an excellent relationship with, and reputation among, pretty much all of the providers in our area who serve people with HIV/AIDS. We collaborate with virtually all of them either formally or informally and they are grateful to be able to refer their clients to our services. We work with every major HIV/AIDS service provider, the Houston Health Department, the Harris County Hospital District, all of the major hospitals and physicians who see HIV-positive patients and even have formal relationships with the UT Dental School and Baylor College of Medicine just to specifically name a few. We are proud to be a truly collaborative organization and to be fully integrated into the Greater Houston HIV care network.
MGH: How critical is the need of HIV/AIDS patients in Houston?
DS: HIV/AIDS may not get the attention it did a few years ago, but it remains one of the most tragic and costly public health problems our society faces today, and unfortunately HIV/AIDS rates in Houston continue to be extremely high. The need for all people to know their HIV status and to be in treatment if they are HIV-positive is critical as studies show that people in care are much less likely to spread the virus not to mention live longer and healthier lives. The need for our services is immense because we provide critical and in many cases life-saving care to those individuals who cannot get this care through any other means or organization. For example, we serve approximately 70-75 people a day at our dental clinic and nearly 3,000 unique individuals each year, yet we have an additional 1,100 waiting to schedule appointments. With additional support from individual, corporate and foundation donors in the community we could expand our capacity to meet more of this critical need.
MGH: What’s a misperception about HIV/AIDS that the organization continues to cope with?
DS: There are a few. Among the most troubling is the perception that HIV/AIDS has become a "chronic disease" that a person can live with and manage with today's medications. While the good news is that is true to an extent for some people, there are now hundreds of different strains or variants of the virus that have been identified, some of which are resistant to many of the drugs available today. Even for those who respond favorably to drug therapy, success levels vary, the drug regimens are demanding and often have serious side-effects and they are extremely expensive. For too many people, HIV isn't considered to be nearly as serious as it used to be, and in fact still is, because they don't see people dying as quickly and as dramatically as they used to. But unfortunately the beds at our residential Hospice, Omega House, generally remain full.
MGH: What role do your events play in the organization’s efforts?
DS: Our events are critical for several reasons. Obviously they raise much of the funds that are essential for us to continue to serve our clients and our community. But they are also essential in our efforts to continue to educate the community that HIV/AIDS has not gone away, in no less devastating today than before and in fact is increasing in our most vulnerable populations, those who are poor and who lack access to health education and services. And, equally important, our events often serve as the introductory point for many people who become volunteers, leaders and board members.
MGH: How can people get involved?
DS: There are many ways people can get involved with our organization. We have many volunteer opportunities with our four core programs which include: Oral Health Care at the Dental Clinic, Housing Assistance, Day Treatment Program at the Care Center, and Residential Hospice Care. We also have various opportunities to volunteer with our Resource Development team and Special Events. All of our volunteers may donate their time as individuals or in groups. For more information on how to get involved, please contact our Volunteer Coordinator at 713-341-3761 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org. We invite everyone to visit our website at www.beringomega.org and our Facebook fan page to learn about our upcoming events and activities in the community